This past week has been HECTIC! I cannot wait for course registration and course registration parent meetings are done with for the 2017-2018 school year so I can move on and stop tabulating and checking that students are registering for the appropriate/correct number of classes, not to mention trying to convince Grade 11s that if they don’t register for courses next year, they are not going to graduate….oh the joys of being Career Counsellor!!
This week we were asked to blog about how creating an open space might change the way in which we set up our online/blended learning courses and activities that we complete in our classes. In reading the various posts from our EC&I834 classmates, I was reminded of an experience that I had as a teacher several years back (although I have no idea how I forgot it!).
I was travelling with another teacher and students to Europe on an EF tour and we were to be visiting several different concentration camps from World War II. As “homework” for the students who were travelling with us, we had our students read two books written by a Holocaust survivor who lived in Toronto, Vera Schiff. These two books, Theresienstadt and Hitler’s Inferno told about life in the Holocaust and Theresienstadt told Vera’s story of her time in the camp. The students read the books and were engrossed in Vera’s experiences and the horrors she experienced. Then, we had the opportunity to Skype with Vera. Students came up with questions and we were able to ask her about her experiences “first hand”. To top it all off, by chance she came to the University of Regina for a speaking engagement and we were able to take some of the students travelling to meet her and have coffee with her. Less than a month later, we were walking through the remains of Theresienstadt, nothing could have been more authentic than the experience that these students (and I) had, being able to meet someone who lived through the horrors and then visiting the place where this had happened.
I think that it is fair to say that those students will forever have a deeper understanding and respect for the Holocaust than many their age because of the opportunity that they had to meet Vera and talk to her face to face. This is not always the case but I believe that creating forums or blogs that are open for our students to interact with those that are experts in their field is an amazing way to encourage our students to create a positive digital footprint and learn how to interact with others online, following the proper netiquette. Just as Danielle has been able to interact with the author of her textbook, how amazing would it be if our students could interact with the author of their favourite book or someone who is a primary source for a specific topic, someone who was there and can explain things first hand.
Megan hit on an important point in introducing an open platform for our students to interact with the outside world, we need to scaffold them to being able to do this. Our students, although completely submerged in our current digital age, need help to understand that once you put something on the internet, it cannot be taken back. Nicole, Chalyn, and Aimee discussed this in their posts as well and this can be a difficult thing to understand, that what we post to the internet will be there forever and will reflect on the student….forever.
We also cannot be introducing technologies into our classrooms for the sake of introducing technology. As Graham stated, technology does not equal better learning, it is only a tool that, when used properly, has the ability to create better learning. We need to start with who our students are and, based on their personalities and comfort levels in posting online, integrate technologies as we see fits our students. These technologies will change with the subject of the course (Math will be different than English), the age of the student (more versus less open depending on age) and the comfort level of the those that will be doing the posting (will we share with the world or be intimidated by this process) as well as of our administration and the parents involved in the process. There are so many factors that educators must consider, there is no “one case fits all” for the level of openness your classroom may have.
Ideally, and based on my personal experiences, I would love to have a completely open, online course where outsiders can help contribute to my students learning through blog comments or forum posts. I have seen how being able to talk to or meet someone who witnessed history has changed a students’ perception of the importance of the history and would love to see this insight in more students across multiple subjects but I understand that my students, my administration, and the parents of my students probably have a little ways to go in their comfort levels of this. For now, I have my prototype as a closed course, where my students would be able to interact with each other where they feel safe and not intimidated by the whole of the internet reading their thoughts, questions, and ideas. In the future….wide open (learning) spaces!